Shareware just means “free software”, right?

Myth: “Shareware is free software – if I can download it without having to pay I can use it at no cost.”

Debunking the myth – one in a series of several.

This is very rarely true in a business context. Ultimately, all software is subject to copyright, and the author can decide what rights they are prepared to give up in allowing you to use their product. These rights are usually described in a license, which may limit how you can use the software, conditions you must fulfil if you use it, and what costs you will have to pay. Smaller, independent publishers are more likely to provide their product for free or a very low price to encourage people to use it. However, many of these do so only for private use, and if you want to use the same product at work, they may want some payment from you.

This seems reasonable to me – if you want to use it for your leisure, they are happy that you chose their software to do it, but if you want to use it as a tool to make money, they should be rewarded for helping you to do this.

Typically, if software is free for personal use, the cost for commercial use will be very small, maybe ten to twenty pounds. Sometimes it will be a voluntary amount, or be payable to a chosen charity rather than to the author. In other cases they don’t want money but acknowledgement, so they may require, for example, that a website created using their software has an acknowledgement of this and a link to their site.

Even larger software vendors sometimes give away trial versions of their products for a short period. They may be limited in some way while you evaluate them, such as being unable to print out, earning this kind of licence the name “crippleware”. Often in these cases the product will no longer operate after the initial free period, and the last thing you want is to come to rely on a tool only to find it stops working just when you have that one important document left to create.

Once you find a product does what you need, sign up and pay for the full version and avoid this headache. By paying for it you will be helping to fund future developments and improvements which may benefit you if you choose to upgrade. The only way to be sure that the software you use is properly licensed and used within the restrictions imposed, and paid for where appropriate is to make sure you read the actual license terms and conditions fully, and contact the author if you are in doubt. You always have an inalienable right if you think software is not worth the price asked – choose not to use it and find an alternative.

Truth: While there are free products out there, you cannot make assumptions. Always read the terms of the licence and make sure you follow them, paying for the software if you have to, or choose to use something else.

One Response to Shareware just means “free software”, right?

  1. Pingback: Patching XP and Vista with Service Packs and Hotfix "rollups" « Getting IT right

%d bloggers like this: